The Indo-Pakistan Ceasefire Scenario
India would have to remain alert on the border/LoC without closing its window(s) for purposeful negotiations or allowing the dilution of its revised policy. It would have to remain prepared for increased contingencies along the LoC and cross border terror
The India-Pakistan ceasefire along the 1,050-km international border, line of control (LoC), and the Siachen Glacier area, came about on November 26, 2003. Then Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali had announced it as a commemoration of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of prayer and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan that year. This year’s Eid al-Zuha saw its worst violation by Pakistan since 2003. During the heavy firefight, the annual tradition of exchanging Eidi sweets was done away. And so was the practice of holding flag meetings between the commanders of the Border Security Force (BSF) and Pakistan Rangers deployed along the international border.
A historical analysis of the ceasefire violations since November 2003 shows that the escalation in the number of violations has no correlation with the Narendra Modi Government under coming into power in India. The escalation picked up gradually in January 2013 and then very steeply after Nawaz Sharif for the third time took over as Prime Minister of Pakistan in June 2013. As per reports, 347 violations were recorded in 2013, compared to 114 incidents in 2012. This year, 334 incidents have already occurred till date. Despite much improved vigilance on the LoC, the number of cross border infiltration attempts has also gone up in last one year.
Many Indian journalists and political leaders who have been feted by Nawaz Sharif believe him to be the messiah of peace. But Nawaz Sharif’s rhetoric on improving relations with India fails to match up with the developments on the ground. Apart from the Kargil misadventure in 1999 and other major cross border terrorist acts when he was in power, his tacit approval—willingly or unwillingly—to keep the LoC alive and maintain terrorist pressure in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) cannot be missed. He and the Pakistan Army have always been together on this page.
According to intelligence reports, soon after taking over as Prime Minister in 2013, the Nawaz Sharif Government cleared a new ‘Kashmir strategy’ and set up a ‘Kashmir Cell’ in his office. The purpose of the cell was to keep track of developments in Jammu and
Kashmir (J&K). The other related fact in his current tenure is that as his political position weakens, he comes more and more under pressure from the Pakistan Army, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the terror outfits of Punjab and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
After Modi Government came into power, last week of August 2014 saw the first major ceasefire violation in which Pakistani troops resorted to small arms fire and 82mm mortar shelling (such mortars have never been used on this stretch since the India-Pakistan war in 1971) of nearly 35 BSF posts; from Samba to Akhnoor along the international border. This was responded to in the usual manner. After four days of firefight, paramilitary commanders of both sides met and agreed to maintain the ceasefire.
This incident was followed by the Pakistani High Commissioner meeting J&K secessionists despite being warned by the Indian Government not to do so. The Indian Government reacted sharply. It cancelled the Foreign Secretaries’ meeting. Soon after, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raised the Jammu and Kash- mir issue in the United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 2014. He earned a sharp rebuke from Indian Prime Minister Modi in the same forum next day. Modi made it clear that “raising it at the UN won’t resolve bilateral issues.”
This is where Pakistan and its army went wrong. Without taking into consideration the Indian Government’s revised Jammu and Kashmir policy and resolve, it continued with its attempt to increase pressure on the new Indian regime. In a major skirmish this time, Pakistan Army and Rangers targeted the entire LoC south of Pir Panjal Range and the civilian population and towns along the international border. It must be noted that in all Indo-Pakistan wars, military forces on both sides have consciously avoided targeting civilian population in towns and cities. This engagement of soft Indian targets after October 2, 2014, left no choice with India except to retaliate with force. The Modi Government could neither afford dilution of its policy nor be seen giving in to pressure of violence. After analysing earlier incidents of ceasefire violations, it had already given greater autonomy and escalation dominance/control to local military commanders. The forceful response was evident on the ground as well as in the political rhetoric. Pakistan was shocked by the massive retaliation. It had failed to appreciate the new Indian Government’s strength in public and Parliament, and that of its armed forces. Even more importantly, the change in its leadership! Such failures can be a fatal flaw in any armed conflict. The important lesson from Kargil had been forgotten.
It is not only the installation of Modi Government in India and revision of its policy on cross border terrorism which rankles Pakistan. The Pakistan establishment has always believed that India’s future is hyphenated to that of Pakistan. A few days ago, Munir Akram, Pakistan’s veteran diplomat in the United Nations, wrote in a US newspaper, “India cannot feel free to play a great global power role so long as it is strategically tied down in South Asia by Pakistan.” The Pakistan establishment is unable to digest India’s progress on the domestic and international fronts despite Pakistan. Being left increasingly behind India is bad enough for Pakistan’s national security decision makers, the Indian posture of indifference adds insult to injury. Apparently, they have not yet realised that Pakistan’s efforts to ‘tie down’ India has done more harm to Pakistan itself. Its standing and economic prospects have deteriorated primarily on account of raising and supporting its terrorist groups and trying to keep Kashmir on the boil. What do I foresee in the coming days? Will the Pakistan army give up needling India on the LoC or in J&K? I do not think so. As long as it is in the driving seat without being accountable to public and political leadership, it will continue with its anti-India programmes without pushing it to the level of a war-like situation. With further weakening of Nawaz Sharif domestically, the Pakistan Army will enjoy greater autonomy. The attempts in cross border infiltration and tensions on the border can be expected to go up further. Pakistan Army would also be looking to the strategic advantage when the US troops leave Afghanistan, which would enable it to use its ‘strategic asset’ (militant groups) in larger numbers. It would push the Pakistan Government to raise the J&K issue in all global forums: a resurgent challenge that would need to be met by Indian diplomacy.
Will the November 2003 ceasefire come to an end? Unlikely! The governments in India and Pakistan do realise that the ceasefire, which remains ‘on sometimes and off sometimes’, is better than not having one at all. There is much pressure from the civilian population on both sides. That notwithstanding, the Indian Government needs to consider safer habitat for people living close to the international border and LoC.
India would have to remain alert on the border/LoC without closing its window(s) for purposeful negotiations or allowing the dilution of its revised policy. It would have to remain prepared for increased contingencies along the LoC and cross border terrorism. Keeping that in view, it is recommended that: There is need to a re-look at the security management of disputed international border. Dual responsibility (and accountability) for external threats along a volatile border/LoC/ Line of Actual Control (LAC) between Home and Defence Ministries should be avoided. Synergy is important in any crisis situation. Synergy among all relevant stakeholding institutions for this purpose; the joint services, concerned ministries, intelligence agencies, the NSAB, the NSCS and within the CCS must remain high. Existing political polarisation on the sensitive issue of conflict over J&K needs to be bridged by periodically keeping informed about serious security related incidents on the border/LoC/LAC.
Beating retreat border ceremony at the Wagah border
A Cheetah helicopter landing at high altitude in the Siachen Glacier